Book Review: The God Who Sits Enthroned
Fernandes, Phil. (1997): The God Who Sits Enthroned. Bremerton, WA: IBD Press. 164 pages. $10.00.
Dr. Fernandes's book touches on many of the major themes in Fundamentalist Christian apologetics and concentrates especially on three areas: psychological, philosophical, and scientific. In the first part, psychological apologetics, Fernandes concentrates on defining the problems of existence. He argues that humankind's "wretchedness" is such that we can in no way save ourselves from the evil that we visit upon one another. "The builder of hospitals is also the builder of torture chambers," he points out (pp. 34-5). Humans need God to fill the void in their lives; moreover, only Christianity can quench the thirst caused by the emptiness of life.
In the second part of his book, Fernandes sets out to demonstrate that atheism, agnosticism, and non-theistic world-views completely fail due to their internal incoherencies. Unfortunately, with the exception of atheism and agnosticism (which the author finds internally inconsistent) the author does not tell us what the failure of non-theistic world-views consists in. He simply maintains that they "fail." The author does suggest that they fail "to prove their cases" which might mean that they too are internally inconsistent or that their explanations fall short of adequately building a systematic metaphysics. This latter view seems to be the case. After refuting atheism and other competing views to theism, Fernandes reviews the basic arguments behind the ontological, teleological, moral, and cosmological arguments for the existence of God. At the end of this summary, the author also deals very briefly with the problem of evil, miracles, and moral relativism.
The third part of the book makes the case for scientific creationism, concluding, "since God is not the author of deception, it is reasonable to conclude that evolution is a myth" (p. 158). I shall not comment on the author's views concerning creationism.
Dr. Fernandes's book seems to have been written for a lay audience to serve as a very basic introduction to some contemporary problems in the philosophy of religion. In this respect, it succeeds. The book is well-organized, easy to understand, and the author has obviously given the problems that he deals with a great deal of thought. However, serious mistakes plague the author's work and serve to undermine the book as a whole. For example, in his refutation of atheism the author sets up a strawman by declaring wrongly that "atheism is the belief that it can be proven that God does not exist" (p. 37). This, despite the fact that in the conclusion to his book, Fernandes realizes his earlier mistake and declares instead that "atheism is the belief that God does not exist" (p. 161). However, he uses the fallacious definition to argue that "in order for one to disprove God's existence . . . [the atheist] would be all-knowing, and he would have the ability to see and know all things in the physical and spiritual realms" (p. 38). Given the strawman that Fernandes has initially stuffed, it is no wonder that he erroneously reached this conclusion. However, his argument fails when the correct definition of atheism is considered. Even more egregious, is Fernandes's howler against agnosticism. He argues that agnosticism is internally inconsistent because "one must know something about God to know that nothing can be known about God. Therefore, agnosticism, like atheism, is a self-refuting view" (p. 38). Although the author does not say so explicitly, his argument rests on the notion that, in the declaration that God is unknowable, the agnostic must first assume God's existence in order to be able to say that God is unknowable. Thus, Fernandes repeats the same mistake of the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides who also confused the negative predication of some object with a negative existential judgment. Since Aristotle has answered Fernandes more than adequately over two millennia ago, I will not further comment upon this fallacy here. In another instance, Fernandes seems to confuse evolutionary theory with Hegelian metaphysics (or perhaps long-abandoned neo-Darwinism) by declaring that "evolution implies that man is moving towards greatness, not away from it" (p. 34). Additionally, in his very brief discussion of logical positivism, the author makes the common mistake of thinking that the verification principle is a synthetic proposition rather than an analytic proposition. Since this myth is widespread in analytic philosophy, this error can probably be blamed on the sources that Dr. Fernandes seems to rely heavily upon. However, these (and several other unmentioned) mistakes, betray the author's general unfamiliarity with much of the material.
Despite these problems, Dr. Fernandes does a nice job of clearly presenting the major arguments for God's existence so that the person without philosophical training can understand them easily. With respect to the cosmological argument, Fernandes boldly concludes that the cosmological argument proves that the theistic God exists. This is a very surprising conclusion given that few Christian philosopher of religion have ever made such a strong claim. At best, William Lane Craig thought that his modern version of the kalam cosmological argument demonstrated that an eternal cause of some sort precedes the temporal universe. Fernandes relies very heavily upon the three most conservative thinkers in the philosophy of religion, William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, and Norman Geisler. It is hoped that the reader will go on to read other commentators than just these three, since in relying solely upon them, Fernandes has not presented the reader with a balanced assessment of contemporary thought on the subject.
Whatever opinion the reader takes of the author's work, he is to be commended for enthusiastically approaching such a broad range of topics in so few pages. In discussions of this sort, brevity and clarity are often lost in the fray. Atheists and theists alike should find much to consider within Dr. Fernandes's book.